SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 KGs 19:9.11-13PS 84:9-14ROM 9:1-5MT 14:22-33 ]

Like the disciples in the gospel we all battle with the storms of life.  They were “battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind.”  This is the reality of life.  All of us have storms in life, regardless whether we are young students in school or in tertiary institutions, working or retired at home.  This life is fraught with challenges.  This is true even when we are successful or when we do good.  As it is said, call no man at peace till he is dead, and that we must add “hopefully!”

Indeed, this was the case of Elijah.  He had just performed two great miracles by his efficacious prayers to God.  He had won victory over the false prophets of Baal and killed them.  Secondly, he performed the miracle of the rain as Israel was in drought, demonstrating the power of Yahweh and who the true God is.  Instead of being impressed, Queen Jezebel was enraged when she heard how Elijah destroyed her prophets.  She decided to eliminate Elijah and went for his life.  We can imagine the anti-climax that Elijah must have experienced after being elated at these two victories.  Victory turned to discouragement, fear and loneliness.  He had to flee for his life.  Alone and discouraged, he sought refuge in the desert.  He wanted to die and felt defeated and useless.  “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  (1 Kg 19:4b)  

Jesus in the gospel was battling with His life and mission as well.  Earlier on, He was informed of the death of His cousin, John the Baptist, who was beheaded by King Herod.  (cf Mt 14:1-9) We read that “when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”  (Mt 14:13)  He was thinking that what happened to John the Baptist and all the prophets before him would also happen to Him.  He sensed the danger of death ahead of Him.

In such moments as these, what we need to do is to withdraw.  This is the first stage of finding focus.  We cannot continue to fight the battle when we have lost our focus, our direction and our sanity.  When we are angry, disillusioned and resentful like Elijah, we cannot remain objective.  Instead of acting, we will just react to situations and people who are against us. If we retaliate like our opponents, then we will fare no better than them.  That was what Jesus did not do.  Instead, He retreated to find focus.

The first attempt to find rest in a deserted place failed because the people sought Him out, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.  But He did not give up easily.  When He found the next opportunity, He withdrew to pray. We too often find ourselves overwhelmed by problems and demands, one after another.  There will always will be an urgent need or thing to do but we must find the window for us to escape to pray as Jesus did.

So too God lead Elijah away from the troubles that were overwhelming him.  He came to comfort Elijah and led him through the desert to Mount Horeb, where He revealed Himself to Moses.  From Beersheba, Elijah walked through the desert to the Mountain of the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights, covering almost 250 miles.

The pilgrimage that Jesus and Elijah did was simply to enter into themselves.  It was a journey inward.  The pilgrimage did not start when Elijah reached Mount Horeb, it began from the moment he left Beersheba and all the way to the Mountain.  He needed time to process his feelings, his fears and his underlying motivations for all he did.  Indeed, the Lord challenged Elijah to look deeper into his resentment and disappointment   When asked by the Lord twice what was bothering him, he replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” (1 kg 19:10,14)  But that was not true.  Elijah was self-righteous.  He was engaged in self-pity.  He was not the lone true prophet as he claimed to be.  There were other good prophets too.  He thought too highly of himself.  We too often think that we are the only good people left when there are many more good people around us.

Indeed, the real pilgrimage we need to take is to become more aware of ourselves, our anger, feelings and motives.  To find focus in life, we need to withdraw from the hurly burly of life and enter inward to find ourselves, like Jesus and Elijah.  Only then can we find clarification.

From an inward journey, we must then take the upward journey to God. This is symbolised in Elijah going up to Mount Horeb and Jesus going up to the hills to pray. It was in the silence of the cave that Elijah heard the Lord speaking to Him.  God did not appear in the mighty works of creation as he thought he would, for God is often associated with earthquakes, fire, wind, lightning and thunder.  On the contrary, God came to him in a whisper.

How true! God often speaks to us in the silence and recesses of our hearts.   I know of many who encounter God when they are in deep contemplative prayer or when they “rest in the Spirit”.  Many of them testify to the peace, the healing and assurance they received during such moments of encountering the Lord.  In solitude and in silence, the Lord comes to our lives and put all things in perspective.  So we must look for God in silence; not turn to the pub, or alcohol, or social activities to drown our pains and frustrations.  They will only lead us to more problems and more frustrations.   But like Elijah and Jesus, we must make the inward journey into ourselves and then the upward journey to God.

From this upward journey, we are now ready to move out and make the outward journey. We note that after encountering God, Elijah was given a clear mission.  To Elijah the Lord told him. “You shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.  Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha as prophet in your place.”  (1 kg 19:15f)  He would no longer be alone but he would have an assistant to help him in his mission.  Jesus too, after spending time with His Father, came to rescue the disciples from the storm.  “Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’  And as they got into the boat the wind dropped.”  With Jesus in their boat, there was calmness again.   With Jesus in our midst, there is no need to be afraid of anything.  With the assurance of His love, we can do everything in Him.

We too who have received the gospel must now do likewise.  Having encountered the Lord and been renewed in His love, we must now reach out to those who are lost in the storms of life.  We must help others to find focus, just as St Paul did in the second reading.  He was moved by God’s mercy and love for him.  He felt so much for his fellow Jews who rejected the gospel when they were the chosen people of God.  He said, “my sorrow is so great, my mental anguish so endless, I would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if it could help my brothers of Israel, my own flesh and blood.”  Truly, only when we have encountered God’s mercy and love, will we also desire to share our experience with others as St Paul and Elijah wanted.

However, in this process, we must never take our eyes off Jesus again. This was the mistake of St Peter.  In his impulsive and spontaneous response, he asked the Lord, “’If it is you, tell me to come to you across the water … but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink.”   Indeed, those of us who have been renewed must never take our eyes away from the Lord.  We must not depend on our impulse to do great things for God.  Our spiritual life cannot be dependent on finding new highs and experiences all the time.  We cannot allow ourselves to be ruled by our heart and feelings alone.  Whilst it is important to be ruled by love, as Peter did, we also need to use our reason and discipline to help us overcome the trials of life.  The way of Christ is always through the cross and suffering.

Nevertheless, even if we sink again, let us also never forget that He will save us again, just as He put out his hand at once and held Peter saying, “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Peter failed the Lord many times and betrayed Him.  But the great thing about Peter was not that he failed, but that he was humble enough to pick himself up again. Through his failures, he came closer to the Lord.  Through his failures, he learnt to be humble.   We too should not be afraid of failure but we must continue to rely on His grace and mercy.   He will not fail us even when we fail Him.  This is our God, the merciful and compassionate one.  All He asks of us is to have faith in Him and bring Him into our lives.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore